A Time Of Upheaval

A Time Of Upheaval

After a brief period of excitement over fascism and Bonapartism in France, American liberals have returned to their cherished complacency by observing that nothing has really changed in that country. Newspapermen even report the significant fact that restaurants serve the same good food and wine. But actually France is entering a period of upheaval which can bring about a revolutionary change in the social structure of the country. There is no great period of revolution for which historians have not observed that most people in responsible positions carry on with their normal lives and without realizing what is about to engulf them. Revolutions take place precisely when the ruling classes persist in their routine in spite of changed circumstances.

Since there is a revolutionary situation in France, that is, a situation in which hitherto unrecognized forces push to the fore, the task of formulating predictions becomes by definition impossible. However, one may try to assess what forces are at play.

FIRST, ONE MUST dispel the myth with which de Gaulle has justified his seizure of power, namely, that the problem is one of reforming the French political structure by introducing a presidential constitution on the American model. That de Gaulle is a sincere man and actually believes this to be his task, does not speak well for his political acumen. The problem is political and not legal: England has a stable government with a Parliament that has more power than the French Chamber; when the American constitutional machinery had to solve an issue similar to the present French one, the result was secession and civil war.

If the problem is not constitutional change, what is it? It seems to me that the immediate cause of the crisis is the fact that the French Army cannot win the war in Algeria. Not winning is tantamount to defeat in a colonial war: a colonial territory which has not been “pacified” is an unconquered one. The French Army—by this I mean the professional officers—do not want to take responsibility for their defeat. Hence they blame the politicians, just as Napoleon blamed the men of Paris for his Egyptian fiasco. For this reason one may draw a certain parallel with the February Revolution in Russia. The regime of the Czar was overthrown so easily because the Russian general staff had to blame somebody for the misfortunes of the Russian army. Since Rasputin was dead and the Czarina, with her allegedly pro-German clique was in eclipse, there remained only one possibility: blame the Czar and the autocracy. Hence the notion that if Russia were to be given a constitutional government she could conduct the war successfully.

Thus de Gaulle may be compared with Kerensky. There are certain similarities between the personalities of the two men: both believed in their missions as saviors of the country, both fancied themselves to be democratic dictators, both were aloof from the facts of politics because...

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